It has become a tradition during the quiet part of the offseason: we make lists and rankings about everything so we’ll have something to discuss — but also to wrap our heads around what to expect from this Kansas City Chiefs roster.
And we’re finally here. Not only has training camp begun, and not only have the Chiefs finally added help at the EDGE position, but we’ve also reached the end of the top 20 series with the four best players on the roster for 2022.
Whether you’ve been following this series or not, you already have a good idea of who the top three Chiefs are. It’s the fourth player that makes a huge leap from 2021 and positions himself as a leader and a difference maker, likely with a green dot on his helmet in 2022. We already know that the rankings (from 4-20 and below) will shuffle quite a bit as the season progresses, but there won’t be a new player at No. 1 for another decade.
With what little suspense remains, let’s go to the top four Chiefs heading into the 2022 football season:
4. Linebacker Nick Bolton
Last week’s list started with a linebacker (Willie Gay, Jr.) who has taken a while to earn a starting job but finally looks like he’ll be stepping up and making plays this season. This week’s list starts with his running mate, Nick Bolton, who is coming off of a phenomenal rookie campaign. Bolton burst on the scene in 2021 and, despite limited snaps, led the Chiefs defense in tackles (112) and tackles for loss (11). He also made one of the biggest plays of the season with an 86-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown.
Now, after the Chiefs let Anthony Hitchens go, Bolton is the unquestioned MIKE linebacker and one of the real leaders of a new-look Chiefs defense. Bolton is already a top-5 Chief, which may come as a bit of a surprise to some. But he should already be in the conversation as one of the better young linebackers in the league and has real Pro Bowl/All-Pro potential if his second season is on the same trajectory as his first.
3. Defensive lineman Chris Jones
The story at this time last year was the transition of Chris Jones to defensive end. That move wasn’t exactly a success, but Jones still managed to deliver his career-average 9.0 sacks and eight tackles for loss. He’s again the most important player on this defense in 2022, and he’s back inside, where he is most at home. The team will rely upon him to create quick pressure and make game-changing plays, supplementing a pass rush that simply wasn’t good enough last year. He seems motivated and energized in camp, with a big contract decision year looming.
Jones has built a reputation as the second-best interior pass rusher in the league, behind only Aaron Donald. But to hold on to that spot—and the potential future payday that could come with it— Jones will need to get back into double-digit sacks this season. He admits that he had a frustrating end to his 2021 campaign, being unable to close the deal against Joe Burrow in the AFC title game. When he’s at his best, Jones can help close out big games, as he did in Super Bowl LIV. If he’s at the top of his game in 2022, there are few players in the league that are as valuable as Chris Jones, and his agent will be able to make the case for another new deal.
2. Tight end Travis Kelce
One could argue that Chris Jones is an elite player in the NFL, but the next two guys on the list no longer have to argue. Travis Kelce enters 2022 as the best tight end in the NFL, bar none. He’ll start work on his seventh straight 1,000-yard receiving season, which is absurd for a wide receiver, much less a tight end— no other tight end has more than three. His path to the Pro Football Hall of Fame is paved with defensive backs and linebackers who are either too small or too slow to cover him. The statistics speak for themselves, as Kelce is top five all-time in nearly every statistical category in the regular season and postseason play.
But stats don’t tell the whole story. Nobody has more fun on and off the football field than Kelce. And nobody is more clutch — if you need any reminders, watch the walk-off touchdowns from 2021 vs. the Chargers and the Bills. The Chiefs rewarded Kelce with a raise this offseason, but he’s still dramatically outperforming his contract. At age 32, he shows no signs of slowing down and could be in line for one of his best seasons ever without Tyreek Hill.
1. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes
This countdown could only end one way, with the best player on the Chiefs or any other professional American football team on the planet. The fortunes of this franchise, league and of Kansas City changed the day Patrick Mahomes was drafted. Not only did Mahomes instantly become a league MVP once he became the starter, but he also followed it up by leading the Chiefs to their first Super Bowl title in 50 years, then back to the doorstep in consecutive years since then. His accomplishments are off the charts, his style of play is fun, creative, and exciting to watch, and he is still getting better in some elements of his game.
Off the field, Mahomes has also done nearly everything right as well. He’s become a pillar of the community with his 15 and the Mahomies Foundation. He’s become a sports mogul with numerous endorsement opportunities and part ownership of the Royals, Sporting KC, and — via his wife Brittany — the Kansas City National Women’s Soccer League team. It turns out that his $500 million 10-year contract was only the beginning of the ties that bind him to Kansas City.
On the field, 2021 wasn’t his best season, with fluky interceptions, Cover-2 problems, and an all-time meltdown in the second half of the AFC title game against the Bengals. You can be sure that Patrick Mahomes will be out for revenge and to prove all doubters wrong. Don’t bet against the most outstanding player on the planet, with a good team and great coach around him. It’s going to be a fun year.